I’ve been to Armenia twice with my family (2004 and 2006) and once with my 11th grade class in 2011. The last time I went, I stayed a couple of extra weeks and volunteered at Orran, a center for at-risk children in Yerevan. Those two weeks could’ve been spent back in California lounging by a pool and spending time with friends, but the moment I stepped into Orran I knew that I’d return to Hayasdan soon to connect with and help the children of my motherland.
“Soon” didn’t happen as soon as it should have, and I’ve found myself drifting further and further away from my home and my roots. Los Angeles, despite it being a huge city, has always felt small and close-knit due to the presence of such a large Armenian community. I didn’t realize this until I went away for school in Santa Barbara in 2013 and was suddenly dropped in a sea of non-Armenians and nearly nobody to speak Armenian and eat kebab with. Little did I know, soon I’d be studying abroad in Sweden, where the Armenian population is nearly non-existent. My contact with anything Armenian was limited to phone calls with my parents, repeatedly listening to Element Band on Spotify, and the single time I found grape leaves at a small store and was able to make myself sarma.
Youth Corps is my comeback. And I don’t mean in an “Eat, Pray, Love” sort of way where I find myself and reach nirvana while riding elephants in Thailand. I mean it in a “reality check” way, in a “there are bigger problems than your biochemistry final” way, in a “you are first-and-foremost an Armenian” way. I am thrilled at the thought of immersing myself in my mother tongue and feeling like my 5-year old self again, who didn’t even think twice about using Armenian as her primary language. I am impatient to connect with my brothers and sisters on the other side of the world and realize that our lives aren’t as different as we think they are. And I hope I’m able to make them feel as proud of our nation and culture as I learned to be through AYF, whether you’re thousands of miles away from your roots or have fallen asleep at night right at the feet of Mayr Hayasdan.